“Welcome, to airship Steamed.” As I hold my pith helmet on my head with one hand, I shake, the seamstress and designer, Linda Lindsey’s hand with the other. “Nice to see you again.” I stretch my short legs in a leap across the wide gap between the dock and the airship. “Watch your step,” I call to Linda as she follows me into into the plush parlor.
I gesture towards the crimson settee, which features curvy lion head legs and claw feet. Linda sinks into the cushioned seat.
I stand near the tea table and twirl. “I love my SteamGyptianPunk outfit you created for me.”
Linda inclines her head and smiles.
Then I plop down onto the chenille cushioned armchair across from her. “For my first question I have to ask What does Steampunk fashion mean to you?”
“Wow, that’s a hard one. I think I see Steampunk fashion as Victorian fashion that has gone right round the bend with a sci-fi twist. It’s not what fashion was but what fashion could have become.” Linda glances at the blue willow teacups, shaking and rattling on the tripod table.
I have to raise my voice to speak over the clang and grind of the airship as we take off. “Let’s jump into the important stuff, do you have any advice on corsets for women or vest for men?”
“Corsets should close to about 4” evenly all the way so you have a good even fit for both looks and comfort. They should have steel bones because plastic heats up and bends, looking lumpy. For plus-size women, they should be a bit longer in the front. Spend the money to get a custom fitted corset, and you’ll never regret it. It’s less expensve than buying a dozen cheap corsets that don’t look good and don’t feel comfortable. A corset shouldn’t hurt to wear.” Linda grabs the settee with one hand as the airship lifts off. “Vest should be long enough to cover your shirt all the way down to the top of your pants, which should be worn at the waist, around the belly button, not below. Along with that, your neck-wear should be proportional to the space the vest leaves at the neck.”
I cock my head to the side. “And how do you feel about bustles?”
“I love them.” Linda leans forward. “They really add a lot to an outfit. They don’t make your butt look big; they make your skirt look full. They can be a little troublesome but for certain silhouettes you really need a bustle to fill out your skirt and make your outfit look proportional.”
Since the china cups cease rattling, I pick up the tea pot and pour my guest and myself a cup of Earl Grey. “In speaking of corsets you mentioned that for goddess size women a corset that is a bit longer in the front is the most flattering. Do you have any specific Steampunk fashion advice to share with plus size ladies and gentlemen?”
“I actually do an hour long presentation on this at conventions.” Linda reaches her slender fingers between the plate of sliced lemons and the spouted creamer cup of milk to the sugar bowl. “But it all boils down to this: Nothing will disguise the fact that you are a plus-size person, but also, there is nothing to stop you from looking stunning. A properly fitted outfit, not too tight, not too baggy, fitting in all the right places (pants at the waist, not the FUPA, corset that closes to about 4″ all the way down, pants the right length, etc.) makes a HUGE difference.” Picking up a sugar cube, Linda plunks it into her tea. “When you walk into a room you will look as stunning as a ship under full sail.”
“What a marvelous analogy.” Picking up a slice of lemon, I breathe in the sunny, citrus scent as I squeeze a drop of its juice into my cup. “What type of clothing do you find the most difficult or challenging to create?” I slip the yellow slice into the light brown tea.
“Men’s Victorian shirts and trousers. There are a dozen little tiny pieces that have to be sewn on in difficult configurations.” Linda picks up a polished silver spoon and stirs her tea, creating a tiny maelstrom in the cup.
“Speaking of menswear, I admire your Steampunk fashions for men, they are quite dapper. Do you have a preference between designing for men or women?” I pick up my cup and saucer and breathe in the subtle, aromatic scent of the tea.
“Sewing for men, other than simple tunics and such, is new to me. I find it more challenging than sewing for women. The body lines and construction are so different. I don’t know that I prefer sewing for women, but I do find it easier.”
“What do you think about spats for men?” I sip my earl grey.
“Spats are wonderful. They really add completion and pizazz to an outfit.”
“What about material, what fabric is your favorite?” I place the cup on my saucer with a soft clink.
“One of my favorite fabrics for Steampunk clothing is Bengaline. It originated in the 1880’s. The modern version is a bit different than the original silk/cotton blend but is extremely beautiful. It has a wonderful weight that makes for gorgeous Victorian skirts and bodices.” Linda brings her teacup from her saucer to her parted lips and draws in a long sip.
“I actually started with carpet bags and hats. It came out of necessity. I was planning my first Steampunk outfit and realized I needed a hat and a bag. I didn’t want a top hat because everyone had those, so I took an old Elizabethan riding hat pattern I’d made, pared it down to the proper size and read a book called “From the Neck Up.” Then I looked at pictures of carpet bags, made a pattern, searched and searched for the right hardware and made myself one. And I enjoyed it so much that I made more. At some point my husband told me I had too many and had to start selling some. So Rosewood Stitches was born.”
“Speaking of hats, here in the 21st century most of us are not use to wearing Victorian style hats. What advice would you give to help people pick out the best hat to complement their face and body and their Steampunk attire.” I lean against the soft, cushioned back of my arm chair.
“There are two basic styles of hat here: ones that fit down on your head (from riding hats to stovepipes) and ones that perch atop your head (like ladys’ hats and tiny top hats). For ones that fit down on your head like top hats, the two keys besides fit are brim width and crown height. In general, the more delicate your face, the narrower you want the brim to be, so go with something like a riding hat. Crown height is a matter of body proportion. The more body you have, either mass or height, the higher a crown you can wear.” Linda picks up the teapot and pours more of the steaming brew into her china cup. “When it comes to women’s perching hats, there is a whole ‘nother set of rules. The key to making a perching hat look proportional is your hairstyle. You want to treat them more like hair accessories (bows, barrettes, etc.) than hats. Don’t slick your hair back in a bun or ponytail with these hats. Style your hair so there is body to it around the hat. You can tease for body or add curlicues or dreadlocks. Just give the hat something to sit IN rather than ON.”
“Since you work with a variety of items, how does designing different types – hats, carpet bags and clothing – differ? Which do you like the best?”
“Well, hats are designed strictly with the beauty of the item in mind. Carpet bags are designed for functionality and style, while clothing involves a lot more. You have to combine beauty, style, functionality and comfort to make it all work on a particular person. As for which I like doing best, whichever one I’m working on at the time.” Linda takes a dainty sip of tea.
“Speaking of hats, I noticed in your Steam pup section, you design Steampunk hats and clothing for dogs. What is that like?”
“Yes, I do, though there’s not a huge call for it. I do frock coats, tailcoats, bodices, ruffle bustles and hats for dogs. It can be highly challenging to get the fit right. Those little buggers wiggle whenever you try to measure them.”
“When you mentioned wiggling buggers, thoughts of children came to mind. I know you design for children as well. What do you like the most or find the most difficult in designing Victorian based outfits for children?” I reach up to adjust my pit helmet which has fallen forward covering my eyes again.
“That’s easy. There are no patterns for children’s Victorian clothing (except for a couple by Burda). I have to make my own patterns from scratch. But the results are just so darn cute!” Linda leans forward to set her tea cup on the saucer on the table with a soft clink.
“Speaking of children, what of you as a child, how old were you when you first started sewing and creating your own designs?”
“When I was five-years-old, my mother gave me a toy Singer that really worked. Metal gears and everything. I started learning to stitch then. I didn’t start making my own designs until I joined the Society for Creative Anachronism in 1986 and discovered the joy of costuming. There were no patterns for Medieval and Renaissance clothing, so we had to make our own.”
“I see the teacups are rattling on the coffee tale. I know what that means, the airship is landing. I have time for one last question. “Of all the garments you’ve made which is your favorite?”
Linda grasps hold of the arm of the settee, bracing for the shaky landing. “Probably my Phoenix outfit. It’s beautiful, bright, and eye-catching. I always get compliments when I’m wearing it. Or maybe the little girl’s Steampunk Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band Ringo Starr outfit. It turned out just right and looked so darn cute on the model.”
The airship Steamed has landed so we say our goodbyes. But you can visit Linda at Comicpalooza (Houston) May 24 – 26, Space City Con (Houston) Aug 2 – 4, Oni-Con (Galveston) Oct 25 -27, and Dickens on the Strand (Galveston) Dec 7 – 8.
Maeve Alpin is the author of four Steampunk/Romances: To Love A London Ghost, Conquistadors In Outer Space, As Timeless As Stone, and As Timeless As Magic.